Regulations are government deconstructing, rebuilding, renovating and redefining itself a little each day.
Government relations practitioners are supposed to pay attention to regulatory activity. In the government relations side of our business, we were beginning to feel that the level of the government regulatory activity had increased in recent years. Some of this, we attributed to new technologies creating new issues for government (e.g., the Internet, biotechnology). The rest we felt was government surpluses creating an expansion of departmental activity. But were we right?
Well, now we know the answer because Canadian Alliance M.P. Garry Breitkreuz asked the Library of Parliament to compile statistics for the last twenty years on the number of new laws and the number of pages of new regulations introduced each year for the last 20 years. His office made a copy of the paper available.
We were wrong! Just because we are busier, does not mean the government has been. This will provide no comfort for those groups who feel they are being overburdened by new government regulations but the last three years actually reflects a 20-year low in regulation production.
We organized the statistics from highest to lowest to see if any pattern emerged.
As it turns out, Mr. Chrétien Government has produced far fewer pages of regulations most years than any of his predecessors. The last Trudeau Administration was generally in the middle. The Mulroney Government was Top of the Charts.
# Of pages of new regulations
Since Conservatives are supposed to be anti-Big Government and the Liberals Big Government-friendly, the results seem a little counter-intuitive. So what is the explanation?
Perhaps counting pages of regulations is too crude a measurement. More pages of regulations may not indicate an expansion of government activity, e.g., a lighter regulatory regime could replace a more onerous one or new regulations could privatize government assets.
Some of it reflects differences between governments that are activist vs. managerial. We touched on this theme three years ago when we compared the legislative activity for the first four years of Mr.Chrétien to the considerably more legislatively hectic first term of the Mulroney Government. Governments with more radical agendas introduce more laws and regulations. Managerial governments concentrate on administration. They work with what they have. They produce fewer bills and, consequently, fewer regulations.
Some of it may reflect the times and the fact that government changes slowly. The rhetoric of restrained government began in the eighties but only took hold in the nineties. For a good part of its time in government, the Chrétien Government has been concentrating on the deficit. Deficit fighting puts the focus on administration, not new laws and programs that spawn new regulations.
Some, who follow this area closely, think there has been a shift in the public service culture surrounding regulation. Regulatory policy is now better understood throughout government. Risk assessment analysis and business impact methodologies, only dimly understood before, are more seriously applied. A more stringent burden of proof has been placed on Departments and the importance of public consultations is taken more seriously.
A lot of the changes seem to have occurred after the major regulatory review of 1992-93. Business groups and business departments were able highlight the detrimental role of regulations in competitiveness. The embarrassing overlap between departments and levels of governments became quite apparent. Responsibility for regulations was transferred from Treasury Board to the Privy Council Office Regulatory Affairs and Orders-In-Council Secretariat. This seemed to help, not least because more regulatory analysts were hired to scrutinize draft regulations. The Chrétien Government has built on those efforts. Chaired by the Deputy Prime Minister, the Special Committee of Council (SCC) is responsible for approving regulations and regulatory amendments. Evidence suggests this Cabinet Committee has taken a more hands-on approach to regulatory affairs. Better training for officials, more resources, tighter administration and more political oversight may be a contributing factor to a reduced volume of regulations.
Apart from what may tell us about different governments, the interesting thing about the regulatory machinery is its consistency - the automatic, relentless and inevitable nature of it all. In the last 20 years, the federal government has produced 91,142 pages of new regulations. That is twelve and half pages of new regulations every day during that period.
Regulations are government embedding and marbling its way into and out of successive layers of societal activity. It is government deconstructing, rebuilding, renovating and redefining itself a little each day. The regulatory machinery may move a little faster or a little slower, but like rust, it never sleeps.